Book review: World War II Plans that Never Happened
World War II Plans that Never Happened by Michael Kerrigan Amber, 224pp, £19.99
It went on for five years, was fought by land, sea and air, across every conceivable kind of landscape - deserts, jungles, mountains, swamps and city streets. Over 20 combatant countries took part in a conflict which took in six continents, costing 70-odd million lives in all. A lot of stuff happened in the Second World War, in other words. Enough to explain (if not in every case to justify) the scores of books still being published every year. And certainly enough to leave the reader wondering why we might conceivably need a history of what didn't happen.
But Michael Kerrigan makes a surprisingly convincing case. Still, half a century on, he suggests, the defining event of our modernity, the Second World War, is seen in semi-mythic struggle between good and evil. Even relatively well-informed students are too quick to see a seamless narrative, with winners and losers. Breezily readable, generously illustrated, this book is very much aimed at the general reader. Yet it's ambitious even so in attempting a back-of-the-tapestry examination of the unfolding conflict, to reveal "the more mundane struggle … as the combatant powers attempted to direct the drama". "Their decisions (sometimes their indecision)," Kerrigan writes, "played themselves out in the field of combat, nudging the narrative in a new direction here; tipping the balance infinitesimally there."
What sort of thing are we talking about? Everything from Hitler's "Sealion" plan for an invasion of the UK in 1940 to Britain's plan to rain ricin down on Germany the following year. One German plot, to assassinate the "Big Three" Allied leaders at the Tehran Conference, was discovered by the Soviets; Britain considered deploying the Dambusters (617 Squadron) to bomb Mussolini's Roman residence. All good, colourful material, though what really brings these stories alive, however, is the wide array of archive documents, along with other rare photographs.
It's not all plans to abduct the Pope, or make aircraft carriers out of ice. Alternative plans for the conduct of campaigns in theatres from North Africa to the Pacific are set out: seeing how things might have been done differently gives us a clearer appreciation of why they were done the way they were. New super-weapons were devised: the Japanese got as far as building prototypes of its I400 submersible aircraft carrier, though its hopes of using it to bomb the Panama canal were never to be realised. Germany's V2 rocket programme was also overtaken by events, though it clearly points an ominous finger to the future. We glimpse that disturbing future too in 'Operation Unthinkable', Churchill's plan to roll over the Soviets in 1945. His previous thinking had to some extent been open to the charge of "fighting the last war" (more specifically, and ironically, his disastrous Gallipoli campaign), so it's quite a shock to find him trying to fight the next war here.Altogether, the most surprising thing about this book is that it springs a constant succession of surprises. Quirky, offbeat - at times counter-intuitive - its reading of the war is illuminating in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west